Powerful Weakness

Romans 5:1-2


Monday of last week there were several different studies released that discussed the ramifications of our new society that exists online. Over the past 20 years the internet has not only served as a way for us to gather and pass along information it has also changed us as a society. It has changed the way that we work, play, and relate to one another. And while there are many benefits to living in a  wired world there are some draw backs as well. 


According to a study by researchers at China's Beihang University the use of social media has made us angrier as a society. They report that people are more apt to pass along posts that are angry in nature while virtually ignoring posts that express joy, sadness, hope, or disgust. MIT has also been researching the internet anger phenomenon and while they have not released their findings yet, they have admitted that they are finding the same results here in America. 


Now before you overreact and go completely off the grid, let me remind you that people have tended to have an anger problem ever since Cain killed Abel back in Genesis 4. Psychologists say that anger is a power emotion, that we are seduced with the appeal of power that comes through being angry. That’s why for so many folks anger is the default emotion, but what we don’t realize is that anger is not real power, instead it is a powerful weakness.      


This morning as we conclude our look at the Lifestyles of the Broken and Shameful, we get to the life of the great deliverer Moses. Now Moses might not be the first person who comes to mind when we talk about being broken by anger, but the Bible is very honest about his issues with this powerful weakness. In fact one of the first things we learn about Moses is that he struggled with anger.  


We are first introduced to Moses in Exodus 2, and we see that his mom put him in a basket and placed him in the Nile river. I’m sure you remember the story; God guided that little basket down the river to the very place where Pharaoh's daughter was bathing. When she saw Moses she felt sorry for him and called a Hebrew woman, who just happened to be his mom, to nurse and raise him. 


So far it’s a beautiful story of God’s providence and concern for His Children, but then we get to verse 11 and things go south. Moses grew up. One day, he went out to where his own people were. He watched them while they were hard at work. He saw an Egyptian hitting a Hebrew man. The man was one of Moses 'own people. Moses looked around and didn't see anyone. So he killed the Egyptian. Then he hid his body in the sand. 


About the time Moses reached his fortieth birthday, he saw an Egyptian slave-driver beating an apparently defenseless Hebrew. The beating was an unfair and unreasonable, so Moses quickly became indignant. His fury boiled up like a geyser and in his anger Moses committed murder, then dug a shallow grave and hurriedly shoved sand over the dead body. 


Word got out and eventually it made it’s way to the Pharaoh. He couldn’t have his slave drivers being killed, so he decided that Moses had to die. Moses escaped to the desert. For the next forty years he lived in the wilderness taking care of someone else's sheep, but the time of quiet reflection didn’t help him learn how to control his temper. 


Fast forward 40 years to chapter 11. God has called Moses through the burning bush, and enlisted him to go to Pharaoh and seek the release the Children of Israel. Pharaoh would not listen and so God sent some plagues as a demonstration of His power over the false gods of Egypt. When we get to chapter 11 Moses has introduced 9 plagues to the land of Egypt and each time Pharaoh has relented and agreed to let the Israelites go, only to later change his mind. 


On Moses’ tenth visit to Pharaoh he told him about the last plague; the death of the firstborn. God wanted Moses to describe what would happen, but he warned him that Pharaoh’s heart would be hard and he wouldn’t listen. Moses walked in knowing that his words would fall on deaf ears; you might think that Moses would have been ready for the response he received. But verse 8 says that after his final warning to the stubborn king, he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger


The Hebrew word used here is the strongest word available to express anger. Moses' blood had reached the boiling point and he walked out of the palace in the throes of fury. Moses couldn't handle the assignment, and his righteous indignation was anything but righteous.  


Sadly, the story doesn't stop there. Months later we get to Exodus 32 and the people of Israel are safely camped at Mount Sinai. Moses climbed the mountain to meet with God and to receive the Law that would bring them closer to God. While he was gone the people went back to their previous level of dysfunction and begged Aaron to make a god to lead them. After the golden calf was made the people started to dance around and worship their new idol. At the height of their debauchery, Moses returned to the Israelite camp. 


Picking up the story in verse 19 we see what happens next, When Moses came close to the camp, he saw the gold calf and the dancing, and he became very angry. He threw down the stone tablets that he was carrying and broke them at the bottom of the mountain. Then he took the calf that the people had made and melted it in the fire. He ground it into powder. Then he threw the powder into the water and forced the Israelites to drink it


I know that many of us want to defend Moses, and ask shouldn't he have gotten angry? And yes I believe his anger was justified. It’s the same feelings that a parent gets when their children are being willfully disobedient. The parent has a right to feel angry towards the act of defiance. The problem here is not the anger but how he expressed that anger. 


Remember these tablets were written by God Himself; they were the most precious documents man ever had in his possession. Think of having a book written in stone by the finger of God! Imagine possessing a document that God personally penned, signed, and deposited to your trust. That is what Moses had.  As he came down from Sinai with these tablets, he saw his people dancing before the golden calf, and his old anger flared. 


He took the precious documents of God and in a moment of fury he smashed the tablets and then ground up the calf into a powder and scattered it in the water and made them drink it. Now I have heard this story my whole life and never really stopped to think about it.  Throwing down the tablets would have taken a second or two, but how long would it take to grind a golden calf into powder? This was not a moment of anger, this was a LONG act of fury with the people, Moses lost control and went overboard.  


If you can handle it, we have one more text to look at this morning, and this one comes from Numbers 20. For the second time the Children of Israel are on the edge of the Promised Land. For the last 39 years they have been wandering, complaining, and dying in the wilderness. You might remember that the first time they were this close to the Promised Land they refused to go in because of their fear. They didn't believe God could give them the strength to overcome their enemies and defeat the giants who roamed the fields of Canaan. 


Since they refused to believe, God had them wander until a whole generation passed away. Now we estimate that there were close to two million people following Moses. If half of them were adults, and they were going to pass away in 40 years time that means they were having funerals every day.  Funerals, food, water, and shelter seemed to consume the days of the Israelites. If you have ever been on a car trip with children you know how frustrating it can be, Are we there yet? He’s touching me. I have to go to the bathroom. He’s touching me. When are we going to get something to eat, I’m hungry. He’s still touching me. My battery died, where is the car charger? He won’t stop touching me. I don’t think we would be assuming too much to believe that there were times that Moses was angry and irritated over their impatience. 


By the time we get to Numbers 20, Moses has had it. His own sister Miriam has just died, and in the midst of his grief the people start in on him again. “If only we had died in the Lord ’s presence with our brothers! Why have you brought the congregation of the Lord ’s people into this wilderness to die, along with all our livestock? Why did you make us leave Egypt and bring us here to this terrible place? This land has no grain, no figs, no grapes, no pomegranates, and no water to drink”


I wonder if Moses suffered from déjà-vu. Once again things aren’t working out according to everyone's plan so let’s whine about how great it was to be a slave and make someone else's bricks back in grand old Egypt. It's the same song and the same verse. They're still griping and complaining about how neglected, and miserable, and abused, and pitiful, and unfair their life is. 


Have you ever just lost it? Just gotten to the point where the dam breaks and while it might not have been a big thing, you just spewed your anger all over anything that was close? I remember living in Atlanta, we had just suffered through a miscarriage, I had moved out of youth ministry and into pulpit work, we were in a strange town, and felt very alone. I was spending my evenings trying to redo a room in an old house that sat next to the building so I could have office space. One evening I was putting up blinds and I stripped out one of those little cheep brass screws. Usually I would get a pair of vice grips and back the screw out, but that night I took my hammer and began to pound the screw into the wood and in the process I broke the little plastic bracket and the window frame. By the time I was done, I was slumped against the wall in tears and Trista was sitting on the floor in disbelief. I wasn’t mad at the screw, but that was the breaking point.     


What the Children of Israel didn’t realize is that Moses had reached his tipping point and he’s about to go over the edge. Let’s pick up the story in Numbers 20 starting with verse 6 to verse 11. (read Text)


God was very clear in His instructions, take your rod with you and speak to the rock. But Moses has reached his limit, and he’s about to explode. And in his explosion he rebels against God, by striking the rock twice. Overwhelmed with hostility he preaches an angry sermon to the people. Then he makes matters worse by letting his anger turn to blasphemy. Moses asks, Shall we bring water out of the rock? But the truth is that Moses was never able to spring water from a rock.  


There is a part of me that wonders if Moses is so out of control that he has lost all sense of what he’s doing. God’s instructions were clear, but in anger Moses struck the rock not just once, but twice. I wonder if he really even cared if water came. I wonder if he was so angry that he wanted their throats to stay dry. So in his anger he strikes the rock, and much to his surprise, out comes water. And it was not just a little stream of water. The text says, the entire community and their livestock drank their fill.


Absolutely Amazing Grace 


I find peace in the fact that the Bible is honest with Moses’ struggle with anger and doesn’t try to deny it or excuse it. Moses was such a broken man, he had a relationship with the almighty but still tried to find power in his anger. The sad truth is that his power emotion was really his weakness. Don’t miss the fact that  like the water from the rock, God’s grace gushed into his life and it was so abundant that Moses was able to drink his fill. That’s the beautiful thing about God’s grace, we act in our brokenness and God graciously gives you what is best anyway.  


We gather here today as Christians because of God’s grace. We talk about God’s grace, sing about it, and have experienced it. But I think that many of us don’t really understand it and struggle to believe it. We use the word a great deal but rarely think about what it means.


In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Phillip Yancey points out that part of our problem is in the nature of grace itself. Grace is scandalous. It’s hard to accept, hard to believe, and hard to receive. Grace shocks us in what it offers, and frightens us with what it does for sinners. We have expectations of who God loves and what He wants, God pours out His grace anyway.  


Essentially grace teaches us that God does for others what we would never do for them. We might save the not-so-bad. God starts with prostitutes and crack addicts and then works downward from there. Grace is a beautiful gift that costs everything to the giver and nothing to the receiver. It is given to those who don’t deserve it, barely recognize it, and hardly appreciate it. That’s why only God can  get the glory in your salvation. Jesus did all the work when He died on the cross.


In the end grace means that no one is too bad to be saved. God specializes in saving really bad people. Do you have some things in your background that you would be ashamed to talk about in public? Don’t worry, God already knows all about it and His grace is greater than your sin.


God knew that Moses had an anger problem, and God chose to love him anyway. God saw his rebellion and heard the blasphemy from his mouth and was willing to give him what he needed most, instead of what he deserved.  


The fear I have is that grace also means that some people may be too good to be saved. That is, they may have such a high opinion of themselves that they think they don’t need God’s grace. They place their faith in their ability to keep some laws that come from man and not from God. God’s grace cannot help you until you are willing to admit what God already knows, you are also broken and shameful. 


Grace offers us a fresh start. The Christian life is really a series of new beginnings. That’s what grace is all about. No one is first, and no one is last. I’m not better than you and you’re no better than me. You’re no worse than I am and I’m no worse than you are. We’re all covered by the grace of Christ, that’s why we can find fellowship at His table.  



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